Oregon’s Connection To Turkish Protesters

Image from Reuters, Osman Orsal on Human Rights Watch website. www. hrw.org
Image from Reuters, Osman Orsal on Human Rights Watch website.

What began as a peaceful assembly and demonstration to protect one of Istanbul’s last green spaces has escalated into a violent crackdown on protesters and has swelled to a larger protest against Erdogan’s authoritarian government, the gradual elimination of civil rights, gentrification in Istanbul, and threat to secularism in Turkey.

From the Washington Post, Max Fisher WP Foreign Staff.

Oregonians should take note of the origins of this movement: The protest against the construction of a shopping mall on a park.

This legislative term, Oregon’s House of Representatives approved two troubling bills: HB 2595 and HB 2596. HB2595 criminalizes interference with State forestland management. The penalty is harsh: 1 year in jail and/or $6,250 in fines for a first offense, 13 months in jail and a $25,000 fine for repeat offenders, and a maximum of 18 months in jail and a $125,000 fine.  Political imprisonment and financial ruin awaits those who dare sit in a tree. HB 2596 would allow logging companies to sue protesters for damages: equipment, employee wages, attorney fees, etc.  More financial ruin.

Why? Environmental terrorism. My “favorite” Representative, Wayne Krieger stated House Bill 2595 would allow district attorneys “to charge these terrorists with a crime and make them accountable.” Oregon, wake up. We cannot allow our government to throw around words like “terrorism” to the point where civil disobedience falls under it. This is a fundamental threat to our rights to assemble and free speech. Trespassing, destruction, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief are already criminal acts. Private companies have recourse to recoup financial losses via lawsuits, although I hazard in the end compensation comes from insurance rather than from low to middle-income protesters.

Image from Free Speech Radio News.  http://fsrn.org/audio/headlines-friday-july-10-2009/5031
Image from Free Speech Radio News.

Becky Straus, legislative director for the ACLU Oregon, puts it this way, “House Bill 2595 is effectively criminalizing civil disobedience for one particular group, and we think it’s really very dangerous to give this sort of discretion to law enforcement.”

While our experience is nowhere near the tragedy of Turkey’s, we have just as much to fear from the legal system. These types of laws slowly chip away at our right to civil disobedience, through increased criminalization and financial penalties, which ruin lives.

You may be thinking that people who break the law deserve to be punished. Certainly. However, consider your conscience and look beyond laws. Is the law just? I am not necessarily condoning anything here, but merely asking you to consider what would it take for you to break a law via civil disobedience. What issues are so near and dear to your heart?

These kinds of laws certainly make me think twice about joining a protest. Will I be arrested? What will be the ramifications on my career opportunities if I have a record? The first offense here a Class A misdemeanor. Do it again and it’s a felony.

Think about that potential future felons. Rep. Krieger adds that with stricter penalties, “You’re not going to have second time offenders.”



The Register Guard

The Oregonian



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